Three religious leaders leave Wilton
Three Wilton congregation leaders have announced they will be leaving their respective congregations this summer — the Rev. K. Jason Coker, of Wilton Baptist Church; the Rev. Mary Grace Williams, of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church; and the Rev. Steve (YoungDong) Kim, of Zion’s Hill United Methodist Church.
Coker will leave the Wilton Baptist Church on July 3 and move to his native Mississippi to be the coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) of Mississippi and director of its Together for Hope (TFH) national rural poverty initiative.
As director of the poverty initiative, Coker will provide strategic direction and work in development to secure grants for more than 26 different rural poverty sites in the United States.
“The folks at CBF Mississippi were looking for a coordinator and they wanted me to come back to Mississippi,” said Coker, who grew up in a town in the Mississippi Delta; and CBF’s national denomination in Atlanta was looking for somebody to “give a focus for the whole Together for Hope rural poverty initiative.”
Coker said one of the 26 Together for Hope sites is an organization he started in his Mississippi hometown about three years ago.
“It’s really galvanized the state of Mississippi, as far as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship goes,” said Coker, “and it’s given all those churches a focus and a direction.”
Because of his organization’s success, Coker said, CBF of Mississippi and the national denomination asked if he could duplicate it across the country.
“We always knew the most noble thing we could do is return to Mississippi and do work there,” said Coker, who left Mississippi with his wife in 1998.
For his nine-, seven- and five-year-old children, Coker said, Wilton is the only home they know.
“Mississippi isn’t really going home — we’re going there to do a job. Wilton is our home as much as anything,” said Coker. “It’s very exciting to go down there and do this work, but it’ll be very sad to leave our home in Connecticut.”
Coker said not only will he miss the parishioners of Wilton Baptist Church, his friends in Wilton, and being a pastor, but Wilton’s interfaith community as well.
“I will miss how the interfaith community in this town gets along,” he said. “That does not happen everywhere, and we are unique in that sense.”
Coker said Imam Kareem Adeeb of the American Institute for Islamic and Arabic Studies in Stamford, Rabbi Rachel Bearman of Temple B’nai Chaim, Mary Grace Williams of St. Matthew’s, Father Reggie Norman of Our Lady of Fatima, and Ken McGarry of Wilton Congregational Church, are just some of the local religious leaders he will miss.
“These guys are colleagues in ministry,” he said. “All these churches in town work together well and we’ve always believed that every healthy religious institution in town makes the rest of us healthy.”
After 14 years as rector of St. Matthew's, Williams will leave the church to serve as the new head chaplain and a dean at Bard College, as well as the vicar of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Barrytown, N.Y.
As part of her transition, Williams will move from Wilton to Annondale-On-Hudson, N.Y., where Bard has its campus. Her last Sunday at St. Matthew's will be July 24.
Williams said leaving the “wonderful, good, kind and generous” people of St. Matthew’s will be hard. “It’s like being with your family,” she said.
During her time at St. Matthew’s, Williams said, she has seen the church undergo a number of changes.
“We renovated our sanctuary and got a brand new organ to enhance the music program,” said Williams.
“We’ve also seen an increase in membership with young families, children and youth. We have a strong sense of inclusivity — everyone is welcome.”
Williams said St. Matthew’s is “such a jewel of a parish,” and it’s not only been an honor to serve the church, but the Wilton community as well.
“I’m going to miss more than St. Matthew’s — I’ll miss Wilton and all the people I’ve gotten to know and care for, and who have cared for me,” said Williams, who raised her two daughters in the town.
Two years after becoming its new pastor , Kim will be leaving Zion's Hill United Methodist Church to serve at a newly-appointed church in Huntington, N.Y., beginning July 1.
“United Methodist clergy have a long history of itinerancy,” said Kim. “They used to be called ‘circuit riders,’ who would travel parish to parish, meeting sacramental needs.”
Kim said one of the United Methodist Church policies is an appointment system, “which means that clergy are subject to yearly appointments.”
“Every year, the bishop and cabinet prayerfully consider how pastors will be deployed for the coming year,” he said. “As the discernment process was engaged this year, the determination was made that my gifts and graces are needed elsewhere.”
Kim said when he first visited Zion’s Hill, he noticed a sign outside the sanctuary that reads “the joyful community."
“This has been my experience with the congregation,” he said. “They make sure that you are part of the joyful community with worship, fellowship and companionship.
Kim said he will miss “the members of Zion's Hill, who relentlessly offer grace, love and joy to our family” the most.
“I will never forget them,” he said. “I will miss being part of this community and hope to extend such community to those who are still looking.”
Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, interim resident bishop of the New York Annual Conference, appointed Rev. Peggy E. Fabrizio to serve as Zion’s Hill’s new pastor, effective July 1.